What Flirting Really Means

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Today we're kicking off a brand new mini-series, exploring relationship myths perpetuated by rom-coms and fairytales, with help from therapist and relationship coach Esther Perel. First up, she tackles flirting — particularly, why we do it, even if we’re happily in love.

Q: My partner gets a kick out of flirting with other people when we’re out. Does that mean they're bored with me?

A: No, not exactly. “Flirting isn’t a sign of discontent, at all,” Perel says. “'Flirting' means ‘to tease,’ playing with stability. But it’s not scoring; American culture oftentimes confuses playing with scoring. Just playing with possibility isn’t an achievement.”

Merriam-Webster defines “to flirt” as “to behave in a way that shows a sexual attraction for someone but is not meant to be taken seriously.” By definition, flirting doesn’t mean your partner is looking for something else — it's not a serious play. “There’s very little to do with flirting that is about you being unhappy with a relationship — that is a construct,” Perel says.

Of course, your situation matters. Flirting in and of itself isn’t bad, but within certain contexts, it can indicate other issues you and your partner might be dealing with. “If your partner is always flirting in front of you and not paying attention to you, that has more to do with disrespect,” Perel says. “The flirting is a way in which the disrespect is manifesting. It’s like if I’m always looking at my phone instead of talking to you.”

Same goes if you’re the one flirting. “Anything we do can become problematic, depending on how we do it,” Perel says. “If you flirt because you like to know that you still have that mojo, that’s fun. If you do it every time you see something that’s alive and moves, or you need to check, ‘Do I exist? Am I noticed? Am I worthy?’ then flirting is not the issue. The insecurity is the issue.”

Generally, the flirting rule depends on the couple, and what each partner sees in the act of flirting. “With many couples, there is an understanding that you are a sexual being, you might be flirting on occasion, and there’s an innocence to it,” Perel says. However, if that's not the case, the interaction might not be considered flirting, but rather something more ominous. “The essence of flirting is that there is genuinely an innocence to it. It only becomes a problem when there is no innocence to it.”

Have a question about relationships for Esther Perel? Leave it in the comments below, and we'll choose one to answer on July 12.

Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships

I had just ended my second “serious relationship” and had been back in the usual rotation of dating apps when I met Drew*. Drew was a man that my mother ...
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that sexting can be great for your relationship. Whether you’ve been in a relationship for a while or you’re just ...
Heartbreak doesn’t just hurt, it often feels impossible. So many questions come along with the pain: How can I move on? How do I get through this? Will it ...
Amber Rose doesn't do "off days." "I always feel confident," she tells us. "I never allow myself to not feel confident. I wake up and say, I’m going out ...
In the best-case scenario, you go on a first date with someone, and you hit it off. The chemistry is off the charts, and you're never at a loss for what to...
Sexting was never my thing, and I sure as hell never thought I would even consider cybersex. I knew myself — or at least, I thought I did. I’ll get too ...
Historically, women in West Africa have not had a voice. Men decide if their wife or wives can use birth control or have access to money; fathers decide if...
(Paid Content) You don't need a degree in common sense to know getting involved with a coworker is a bad idea. Yet, we probably all know someone who has, ...
Foreplay often doesn't get enough credit — not to mention time or attention. In one study of heterosexual couples published in the Journal of Sexual ...
Aside from encountering creeps and starting conversations that just don't go anywhere, one major problem online daters face is catfishing. According to a...
A version of this story originally appeared on Shape. When it comes to female pleasure, there's enough misinformation out there to fill a book. One of ...
This article was originally published on December 18, 2015. According to stereotypes, men are the sexually voracious cheaters and women are the ...
We're great fans of accessorizing in the bedroom. Au naturel stimulation is wonderful, but sex toys can do things that people just can't. The sex toy ...
Even as the sex toy market continues to expand, there remain a few vital "firsts" for the industry to tackle. This week, with the arrival of the Buck-Off...